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First, we must realize that discomfort isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Thinking that feeling bad is always bad is an unhelpful notion propagated by clueless self-help gurus and modern-day snake oil salesmen. Discomfort doesn’t always need to be relieved. It can be leveraged like rocket fuel to propel us forward.
Instead of looking for the easiest way to rid ourselves of pain, we can look within to understand what’s driving our desire to escape the way we feel. What are we avoiding when we don’t do the things we really want to do?
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A fascinating study on freshwater snails found that the creatures could make complex decisions with only 2 brain cells: 1 for sensing the presence of food and 1 to tell the snail whether it’s hungry or not. These two neurons determine, for the snail, whether it’s worthwhile to move in the directi...
Most people, only have a vague understanding of what motivation really means. We think of it like the wind: it comes and goes and, if I we are lucky enough to catch it in our sails, we can steer our ship toward our goals.
The problem with this thinking is that if th...
Let’s take, a teenager who spends all their free time playing video games. Despite what their parents may say, it’s not quite right to say they lack motivation. After all, it takes hours of focus and practice to emerge victorious from an epic battle. Rather, the teenager is motivated to play ...
More complex brains evolved to help animals escape what psychologists call an “aversive stimulus”–something that feels uncomfortable. Bears and birds leave the cold of winter by respectively hibernating in warm caves or flying south. When our brains register that discomfort, it spurs us to put on...
If the wind will not serve, take to the oars.
By finally understanding what motivation really is, and what it is not, we can harness it when we have it and use other methods when it runs dry.
When we realize that every action we take is about a need for homeostasis, we can change our mindset and design our life...
And finally, we can rely less on our feelings and more on our routines. By deciding in advance how we want to spend our time, according to our values and our schedule, we pave a clear path for our future actions. Instead of depending on motivation, we can do wha...
To understand what motivation is and how to harness it correctly, we have to understand our brains a bit better, starting with the very basics. Why do we have brains, anyway? Plenty of life forms don’t have brains and get along just fine.
Biologists believe the reas...
Second, after identifying the uncomfortable emotional states, we can prepare ourselves for what we will do the next time we experience those negative emotions.
As Nir Eyal details in Indistractable, we can use dozens of well-studied techniques to prepare ou...
This seesaw influencing our behavior is an example of homeostasis. It’s the physiological and psychological process our bodies use to keep us level.
The body’s desire to maintain homeostasis governs all sorts of bodily functions, both conscious and unconscious. But ...
Evolutionarily, our brains are similar to snails’ brains. They’re more complex, sure, but the motivational drive is the same–when we are uncomfortable, we are motivated to restore homeostasis.
Even wanting is its own form of discomfort, which means that what looks ...
We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.
“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison
It turns out we probably don’t have “motivation issues”, because, biologically, we’re rarely unmotivated. In fact, we’re almost always and very much motivated, just unproductively or unhealthily so.
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